Interview with the Flynn Fund’s Steve Novak
I have never given to the Flynn Fund. I am not a season ticket holder and always felt it was more important to give to the BC Fund as opposed to an athletic-specific fund. The Fund’s recent success and a few controversial initiatives have me thinking a little differently. In order to get more information about the changes, I interviewed Steve Novak, Associate Director of the Flynn Fund. In our exchange below we talk about use of the Fund, donor-based seating and long-term goals.
[Full disclosure: my wife and I are on the Class of 1998 fundraising committee and for the first time I am going to allocate a nominal amount of our total donation to the Flynn Fund.]
ATL_eagle: First explain how the Flynn Fund is used: Are you building a sports endowment or is the money raised going directly to pay for annual athletic department expenses?
Steve Novak: The money that comes in for the Flynn Fund is designated to one of three purposes:
1. Flynn Fund (annual operating expenses such as scholarships);
3. Plant (i.e. Yawkey Athletics Center ).
Scholarships will cost us $13 million this year. We will offer 272 full scholarships at the cost of approximately $48,000 each. Salaries are the other significant expense for the department and there are regular cost of living increases.
ATL_eagle: I understand why a public school with a separate athletic associations would need an athletic fund, but I’ve never understood why BC, a private institution, would need an athletic fund. Why is allocating money to the Flynn Fund different than giving to the BC Fund?
SN: The great thing about giving to the Flynn Fund is that it is the same as giving to any other area of the University. By giving to the Flynn Fund you are a member of the University’s giving societies. We are not competing for dollars as many University’s around the country do. As far as needing a fund, the most important thing I can tell people is that we do not make a profit in the athletics department. In fact, we receive a subsidy of approximately $9 million annually to cover women’s and Olympic sports. With the way we are financially structured the more money we raise for athletics, the less money the University must subsidize – thus, freeing that money up for other University priorities. In addition, it is important to note that Athletics is a University priority. As part of the mission of Boston College we remain committed to sponsor a broad-based sports program. We currently sponsor 31 varsity sports – more than any other ACC school. In addition, all schools, public or private have athletics fundraising organizations. We compete with schools like Duke, Wake Forest and Miami within the ACC – all of whom do a very good job fundraising – not to mention the other public institutions.
ATL_eagle: The Athletic Department is obviously very proud of the record setting year for the Flynn Fund. What percentage of that money raised can be tied back to the donor-based seating programs?
SN: I would say there was approximately a $2 million increase directly attributable to donor-based seating. I would also say there was additional money that came in from individuals who stretched gifts in order to try to get better seats. I would consider this indirect revenue. We raised $19M last year compared to $15M the year before and just $3M about ten years ago. So, as you can see, fundraising has been on a steady incline independent of DBS.
ATL_eagle: Donor-based seating was a obviously the boldest move the Fund has made…can you share some stats (i.e. percentage of seat changes, people giving up their tickets)?
SN: I can tell you that season ticket sales are better at this time than they were at the same time 1 year ago. The fear of hurting sales has not appeared to happen. Of all the individuals who chose to seek seats where donations were not required nearly 100% of them accepted the alternative. This is a great tribute to the passion fans have for BC and the willingness to enjoy the game anywhere in the stadium. Also, our ticket office worked personally with anyone who wanted seat options to do the best we could for them. Obviously there were some people who gave up seats completely, but we have not found this percentage to be far different than any other year.
ATL_eagle: Why mandate a donation instead of raising ticket prices? How important was it to improve the University’s “percentage giving” rate in the US News Rankings?
SN: Although it is true that participation rate is a factor in the rankings, it was not a driving force behind this decision. The need to increase revenue and unrestricted support for BC Athletics was paramount.
ATL_eagle: Was there any consideration to a “loyalty” clause? Some fans felt that you penalized long-time holders who have supported the team through some rough patches only to strong-arm them now?
SN: All of us at BC will be the first to say that this is not a perfect system. However, given our circumstances, we felt we came up with the system that was most appropriate for us at the time. It was imperative to all of us that no one be kicked out of the stadium and that’s why only 16% of the seats were impacted. In addition, we have a relatively intimate stadium with only 44,500 seats. Consequently all seats are closer to the action than at many other venues. Finally, we held out on implementing such a system as long as possible. Many schools have been doing this for decades. This was a last resort and something that was considered very carefully.
ATL_eagle: Fans felt that the donations were heavy handed at best. In hindsight is there anything you would like to have done differently or communicated better?
SN: There are always things you would do differently when you look back. However, given the information at the time I believe we did the best we could. When something is perceived by some to be “bad” news there is no good way to communicate that. That said, I would not have changed anything specific.
ATL_eagle: What are the future plans? Will the donor-based seating be expanded into other areas? Have you considered creating an IPTAY model like Clemson in order to get all fans to give a nominal amount?
SN: As of now there are no plans to expand. As with everything, we will reevaluate as necessary, but there have been no discussions for expansion. I would love to see the day when all fans give voluntarily to BC so that it is not “forced.” As you mention if we did this and our participation rate was naturally higher these things could go a little differently. What IPTAY and other fundraising organizations tell us is that their fans feel passionately about their program. And, although they all cannot give millions of dollars – many hands make light work. Their volume is tremendous. Our challenge at BC, both athletically and as a University, is to translate the affinity so many people feel for the Heights into financial support. Obviously financial support means different things to different people. We ask that all people give what they feel is appropriate. The challenge we have had is that there are too many individuals not making a gift at all – even at a “nominal” level.
[If you want to give to the Flynn Fund or any BC Fund, you can do so online here.]